Racial Slurs in Academic Spaces: A Reader

Four of us—three university professors and a high school English teacher—were talking enthusiastically right through the last call in an ale house across from the Baltimore Convention Center hosting the 2019 National Council of Teachers of English annual conference.

Fulfilling stereotypes of those who would attend such a convention, we were hotly debating the place of racial slurs in academic spaces. One of the university professors argued for the distinction between using a racial slur (the n-word) and voicing a racial slur included in an instructional text.

He believes voicing that word in context is not only acceptable, but necessary.

The other three of us, notably all teaching in the South, were leaning strongly toward never voicing the n-word—especially as a usage but even when reading a text aloud.

While some white people still want to argue that if Black people can say the n-word, then white people should be allowed as well. I think in schools and colleges, this flawed reasoning is fairly universally rejected, and using the n-word is not allowed by white people and possibly banned entirely across campuses (zero-tolerance policies).

However, what has increasingly become an issue is challenges to voicing of the n-word as well as referencing to the use of the n-word.

Below is a reader that highlights the current controversy along with the unintended problems with zero-tolerance polices connected to the n-word:

[Update] Banning the N-word on campus ain’t the answer — it censors Black professors like me, Vershawn Ashanti Young

The Idea That Whites Can’t Refer to the N-Word, John McWhorter

It’s Time to Completely Ban the N-Word in Schools (Education Week)

N-Word at the New School (Inside Higher Ed)

Professor who quoted James Baldwin’s use of N-word cleared by university

Too Taboo for Class? (Inside Higher Ed)

2 More Emory Law Professors Reportedly Said the N-Word in Class (Inside Higher Ed)

Emory Law Professor faces termination hearing for using ‘n-word’ in discussion of civil rights case, discussion with student

Professor who used N-word in class announces resignation

Universities repeatedly discipline professors for referring to the n-word

Black student calls out white professor who used the n-word in class as an ‘experiment’

How a Dispute Over the N-Word Became a Dispiriting Farce (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

MNPS teacher placed on leave for homework about the n-word

Should Schools Have an N-Word Policy? Uproar Over Guard’s Firing Forces Hard Questions (Education Week)

‘I’m not your n-word’: school guard fired for repeating racial slur

“Incident,” Countee Cullen


Claremont McKenna denies professor’s account of censorship

Pedagogy and the N-Word


One thought on “Racial Slurs in Academic Spaces: A Reader”

Comments are closed.